Viral moments involving Trump, Bush and world leaders
Published 6:00 AM EDT Sep 23, 2019
NEW YORK – It’s the Superbowl of diplomacy.
And like any scripted, high-profile event, the annual United Nation’s General Assembly is bound to have its share of hiccups, misunderstandings and bizarre moments.
Sure, statecraft can be plodding and dry. But pack all of the world’s most powerful leaders (Read: big egos) into a few New York blocks, and the unexpected can happen.
Here’s a look at the most viral moments from the United Nations.
‘Didn’t expect that’
President Donald Trump, always the showman, got a noteworthy response to his United Nations address last year. It just wasn’t the response he was looking for.
It was laughter.
“In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country,” Trump said, echoing a line he has used dozens of times on the campaign trail.
But his counterparts, apparently, weren’t buying it as a plausible pitch on the world stage. Or weren’t sure what he meant. Or something. They laughed. Trump paused, and then recovered with a rare show of humility.
“Didn’t expect that reaction, but that’s okay,” Trump said to more laughter and then a round of applause.
Efforts to make sense of the moment only seemed to draw renewed attention to it. Trump’s former ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, posited that world leaders laughed at Trump because “they loved how honest he is.”
Trump shocked the General Assembly during his first trip to the U.N. in 2017 by taking language he used on Twitter and amplifying it in front of world leaders.
“Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime,” Trump told his counterparts of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. “The United States is ready, willing and able, but hopefully this will not be necessary.”
The saber rattling, which took place within an institution intended to avoid global conflict, eventually gave way to a softer stance.
Trump has since credited his tough language at the U.N. and elsewhere with fostering a better relationship with Kim. While the two leaders have met three times, critics have noted Kim continues to build a nuclear weapons programs despite U.S. objections.
Scuffle in the hall
The United Nations is all about decorum. Until the fistfights break out.
A scuffle in the United Nations headquarters in 2011 briefly distracted from the diplomacy. It all began when Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, tried to rush onto the floor to listen to a speech by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.
He apparently was using the wrong door, and by some accounts was pushed by a U.N. guard. That set off a fracas between U.N. guards and Erdogan’s security forces.
One U.N. guard was taken to the hospital with a rib injury, and the New York Times reported at the time that there were unconfirmed reports of bloodstains on the floor.
Short and sweet?
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was given 15 minutes to speak.
He took 90, instead.
In a rambling first address to the United Nations in 2009, Gaddafi condemned the institution because, he argued, non Security Council members had no power.
“We just speak and nobody implements our decisions,” Gaddafi said. “We are mere decoration, without any real substance.”
Smell the sulfur
Trump isn’t the first U.S. president to have words with Venezuela.
Former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez made headlines in 2006 by calling then President George W. Bush the “devil.” But Chavez didn’t stop there.
“The devil came here yesterday, and it smells of sulfur still today,” Chavez said.
With a dramatic flair, Chavez made the sign of the cross on his chest, and looked to the ceiling as if saying a prayer to God.
John Bolton, then U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said the remarks were “insulting.”
Long before Twitter
And then there are the classics, many of which played out amid the heightened tensions of the Cold War.
In 1962, U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson used a Security Council meeting to put the U.S.S.R. on the spot about whether it was installing missiles in Cuba. Stevenson demanded that Soviet diplomat Valerian Zorin not “wait for the translation” and answer his question immediately. When Zorin hesitated, Stevenson famously fired back that he was prepared to wait “until hell freezes over” for an answer.
Two years earlier, it was the Soviets’ turn to stage some drama at the U.N. Nikita Khrushchev, first secretary of the Communist Party, reportedly pounded his shoe on his desk to protest a speech made by a delegate from the Philippines.
The Philippines official had been criticizing Soviet expansion into Eastern Europe.